♣ Keep this thought firmly in mind: The way to advance through meditation is not grimly to force yourself to sit as many hours as possible every day. To meditate to the point of mental exhaustion is counter-productive. Don’t push yourself beyond your own natural abilities. To meditate five minutes may sometimes be more effective than to meditate hours, if during those five minutes you meditate with full concentration and heart-felt dedication. Always try to meditate with enthusiasm – calm, never restless.
♣ In the beginning you may not derive much actual joy from meditating, though you should at least be able to feel peace. In any case, concentrate on the positive results you anticipate from meditation, and not on the arduousness of the effort involved. Later, as you begin to experience joy within, make it a practice to meditate only as long as that joy lasts. When it begins to diminish, stop, and get up. An act that is happily remembered will be returned to with enthusiasm. Never let your meditations become a chore for you.
♣ When the mind resists your efforts to calm it, don’t squelch its rebellion. Let your thoughts strut for a while. Meanwhile, simply watch them – pleasantly, if you can, even good-humoredly, as you might watch a fractious child. They will calm down once they find that you respect them no less for their unruliness. During periods of restlessness, when the mind is concerned with busily declaring its independence, don’t discipline it too sternly. Meditate some, of course, if only to keep the meditative habit alive, but otherwise divert the mind. Don’t punish yourself for your inadequacies.
♣ A good rule in meditation generally is to keep always relaxed. Don’t “tough it out” when you feel restless. Instead, work at loving God more deeply. Balanced progress demands ever deeper relaxation.
♣ Try to make daily meditation a pleasure, not a chore. Start, if you like, with five minutes a day. Don’t worry if others, beginners like yourself, sit for half an hour or even an hour. It is always risky to compare yourself with others. Find your own natural rhythms. First of all, get accustomed simply to sitting still for a while; it is better to meditate a little bit than not at all. A better length for beginners, however, would be fifteen minutes – enough time, in other words, to give the mind an opportunity to “simmer down” a little.
♣ Gradually, after a few days or weeks, see if you can’t double your meditation time. Then double it again. Once you begin really to enjoy meditating, you’ll find it natural to sit longer.
♣ Ideally, I’d suggest meditating twice a day, half an hour at each sitting. Don’t force yourself, but try to reach the point where you realize that what you are doing is important to you. From then on, you’ll be safely on your own! At that point, I would say to meditate at least an hour and a half a day – an hour, perhaps, in the morning, and half an hour in the evening. At Ananda Village, and in the branch Ananda communities, I recommend that our members try to meditate a minimum of three hours a day.
♣ Above all, be steadfast. It is better to meditate regularly for a few minutes every day than to make heroic efforts for a week, and then, one’s will power exhausted, collapse into a state of spiritual paralysis.
♣ Remember, finally, this simple rule; it was stated by Paramhansa Yogananda: “The more you meditate, the more you’ll want to meditate. But the less you meditate, the less you’ll want to meditate.”